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Why Herbal Bitters are an Essential Tool for Gut Healing!
I LOVE HERBAL BITTERS! Bitter herbs are an incredibly powerful tool for fixing digestion. Digestion starts in the mouth, and herbal bitters help kick start this process. The “bitter” taste hits our taste buds and starts to stimulate the production of gastric juices. When I work on gut healing for my clients, I am always aiming to add in things that will help to retrain the body to do what it needs to do. Things like bitter herbs, apple cider vinegar, and aloe vera help to do this, whereas things like HCl, pepsin, and ox bile are only replacing what is being lost- these are just crutches in the long term.
Herbal bitters help to:
- Regulate stomach acid
- Balance blood sugar levels
- Boost bile flow for fat absorption and detoxification (bile is a basically a natural laxative- and poor bile is a huge cause of constipation)
- Aid liver function
- Boost the immune system
- Increase nutrient assimilation
- And they can even help with stress and anxiety
- Encourage digestive enzyme production (which is why I recommend them over most regular enzyme supplements)
- Calm down heartburn, gas, and bloating
From Herbal Academy:
“Bitter tasting herbs have a very direct relationship with the nervous system and the gut. When taste buds on our tongue detect the bitter taste, a signal is sent via the vagus nerve to prepare the body for digestion. This means that the parasympathetic nervous system takes over and digestive secretions increase (including bile from the liver, insulin from the pancreas, and digestive enzymes from the stomach). Thus, bitters not only increase the digestibility of food but also calm the nervous system so that you are more emotionally prepared to eat! Any plant that you think tastes bitter will do—you just have to taste it! Bitters should be taken 15-20 minutes before meals so that the digestive system has time to get ready for what you are about to eat.”
My Favorite Bitter Herbs
Bitter herbs are the BEST support for overall digestive fire. Bitters help to stimulate stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and bile production. They help your body to heal naturally and improve all aspects of digestion. Bitter herbs are so incredible that herbalist David Winston says, “If I could do just one thing for most of my clients, I would give them Bitters” – David Winston, RH(AHG).
Dandelion root decoctions or tea– One of the EASIEST ways to help the liver is dandelion root tea. Go for ROOT for longer term use though, not the leaf (leaf is the majorly diuretic part of the plant). Dandelion can help those healing from cancer, infections, hepatitis, and its main purpose is to help cleanse the body. It can be helpful for hypoglycemia, UTIs, blood pressure regulation, acne, weight loss, anemia, jaundice, constipation, and more. Dandelion cleans toxicities from the blood, lymph system, kidneys, liver and urinary system. Since dandelion is a bitter herb, it is amazing for digestion. Traditional Medicinals tea is PERFECT for these benefits.
Herb Pharm Better Bitters
Herb Pharm is another one of my favorite herbal companies. The bitter sprays are SO easy to use (and great for on-the-go use!) as all you do is spray it 4 times in your mouth about 10 minutes before a meal. The sprays are STRONG tasting but it is kind of the point when it comes to bitters. We want to taste the bitter flavor as much as we can to help stimulate the gut.
The Herb Pharm bitters have a few flavors to choose from. I went with the Classic and Bittersweet sprays, and honestly there is not much of a difference in taste. They are both pretty strong tasting, but both effective!
Earthley’s Digest Support
Earthley has a crazy amount of amazing products currently, and their bitters are truly great. They are safe for ages 1+ which is truly helpful as many kids these days could benefit from bitter herbs. This formula is a great blend of dandelion root, orange peel, fennel seed, and cinnamon. It is one of my favorite bitters based on taste- I usually put a few drops right on my tongue before a meal to really get the benefits of the bitter taste. Check it out here!
Comparing Bitters with Similar Supplements
I wanted to update this post a bit and add a comparison between bitters and the other supplements that could be considered similar.
Bitters help with stimulating stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and bile flow. They retrain the body to do what needs to get done.
Typical supplements that people use for these purposes would be HCl, digestive enzymes, and ox bile. These add in these components to replace what is lost- they do not stimulate the body to make its own.
Two of the main bitter supplements we recommend are Herb Pharm Better Bitters and H&A Bitters (both sprays). Each of these is about $12-13. The Herb Pharm is 4 sprays per serving, and each bottle has 49 servings. The H&A bitters are a bit stronger- 2 sprays per serving and over 100 servings per bottle.
Looking at popular brands of each of these, a month’s worth of HCl, enzymes, and ox bile it would cost around $48 if you follow the instructions on each bottle to take 1 capsule of each with each meal.
So for bitters:
- Much more affordable
- Helps to retrain your body to do what it needs to do
- More of a long term solution instead of a crutch
- Easy- one a few sprays on the tongue before each meal or a few drops in liquid
For the others:
- Can be triple the price per month
- Does not help your body to fix itself on its own in the long run
- Can possibly trick your body into NOT making these things on its own
- You would be taking 9 pills a day JUST for digestion
Note for Nursing Mamas
Most of these bitters aren’t good while nursing (which stinks because we need that digestive support postpartum!). The absolute BEST option is Earthley’s Digest Support, and it is great for both pregnancy and nursing. They also have Mama’s Tummy relief, which is helpful for constipation, gas, and other common gut issues during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Dandelion tea is also ok while pregnant and nursing, I just wouldn’t overdo it. Just 1 cup a day would be good just for a bit of support. Obviously eating or drinking things like beets, artichokes, apple cider vinegar, lemon water, and healthy fats help with bile as well as those are definitely safe during these times where we need lots of nourishment.